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UA doctor loses job, blames medical-marijuana lobbying

UA doctor loses job, blames medical-marijuana lobbying

  • Updated

PHOENIX — A University of Arizona doctor who pushed for more research into medical marijuana is being released by the school for what she believes are political reasons.

In a letter to Suzanne Sisley, Joe Garcia, interim dean of the College of Medicine, told her that her appointment as assistant director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program will not be renewed effective Sept. 26.

Garcia provided no reason, saying only the action is being taken in accordance with university personnel policy. “In accordance with those policies, my decision is final and is not subject to further administrative review,” he wrote.

UA spokesman George Humphrey said Tuesday that Garcia is out of town and unavailable. But Humphrey also said the university “does not comment on personnel issues.”

Sisley has been at the forefront of trying to get legislators to allow state funding of a study on whether the drug can be useful in treating post-traumatic stress syndrome.

That has included lobbying lawmakers and criticism of state Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, who blocked a vote on the measure, which Sisley contends led to her being fired.

“I have no formal proof,” she conceded. But she said in April Garcia “confronted me about my political advocacy.”

“He claimed that he was ordered by (university) President (Ann Weaver) Hart to learn more about my activities at the Legislature,” she continued. “He claimed that (Senate President) Andy Biggs had called President Hart to accuse me of somehow using university resources to attack his rising star Kimberly Yee.”

Sisley, in her response to Garcia, denied using university resources in her push for the legislation. And she said with her position at the UA being only part-time, that “leaves me plenty of free hours each week outside my university employment to participate in political activism.”

That “activism” involved her lobbying on HB 2333.

That House-passed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, would have allowed the state Department of Health Services to use some of the $6 million it has accumulated in fees from medical marijuana patients and dispensaries for research. That could help Sisley who already had obtained approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for her study but lacked funding.

But Yee would not give the measure a hearing. Yee said promises were made last year, when she pushed through a bill to allow marijuana research on the UA campus, that any work would be federally funded.

Sisley said that was not the case, though she acknowledged telling lawmakers she would look for “public donations.” But in the interim she learned of the $6 million surplus sitting in the account.

Biggs said he has never spoken to Hart or anyone at the UA about Sisley.

Humphrey denied there was any political pressure to let Sisley go. He also said the university has not been averse to marijuana research, saying university lobbyists “championed” Yee’s prior legislation to allow an on-campus study.

With Sisley soon to be gone, chances of any marijuana research at the UA probably go with her, which has wider implications.

The 2010 voter-approved law allows those with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s permission to obtain up to 2½ ounces of marijuana every two weeks. But the approved list does not include PTSD.

State Health Director Will Humble has rejected efforts to add it, saying he cannot do so without some peer-reviewed research showing the drug would be effective. Sisley had hoped to provide that research.

Last month a state hearing officer concluded Humble was wrong to reject the request to add PTSD to the list of approved conditions for medical marijuana use. The finding, however, is just a recommendation. Humble has until next week to decide whether to accept or reject it.

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